Work absences due to osteoarthritis cost U.S. employers more than $10 billion per year, reports a study in the March Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM), according to a recent press release.

John A. Rizzo, Ph.D., of Stony Brook (N.Y.) University and colleagues used a large national database to assess the impact of osteoarthritis on absenteeism among working Americans. The results showed that about 0.8 percent of women and 0.3 percent of men had osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis increased the probability of any missed work days by about 90 percent in women and 65 percent in men — more so than more common conditions such as anxiety disorder, asthma or diabetes. Workers with osteoarthritis also had more missed work days, with average per capita absenteeism costs of $469 for women and $520 for men.

“This was roughly the earnings equivalent of three days’ worth of work for both genders,” Dr. Rizzo and coauthors write. Extrapolated to the entire country, the results suggested that osteoarthritis increases absenteeism costs by $10.3 billion per year — $5.5 billion for women and $4.8 billion for men.

Caused by breakdown of joint cartilage, osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. As shown by the new data, osteoarthritis is common even among younger, working-age adults. What’s more, it often goes undiagnosed until the disease has progressed.

The study draws attention to the high absenteeism-related costs of osteoarthritis in the U.S. workforce. “Unfortunately, reliable tests for early detection of osteoarthritis are still in development and current treatment options for delaying or preventing disease progression are few,” Dr. Rizzo and colleagues conclude.